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We’ve all been there, for a 5k, half, or 100…sore for days, doing the granny walk, stairs as tall and daunting as Mount Everest, looking sharply at those handicap accessible bathroom tools…

Recovery is unique for each individual. It has to do with age, experience, sex, and what YOU do for yourself among other contributing factors. Let’s dive into some things that you might want to consider. Keep in mind this is for all distances.

What to expect after your first race at a distance

So your first race at a distance is always a new and exciting experience. Recovery can also be a new experience, but not as exciting. Why? Because you are probably experiencing a lot of soreness and trauma to your body. So what can you do?

Treat your body right, be easy on it. Don’t go out and run hard. Go for a walk with you partner or friend, have a chat. One of the best pieces of advice is “motion is the lotion”. Work on getting all those bad juju chemicals out of your system. Running hard or working hard after your first time at a distance isn’t going to provide you with any benefit and could well lead to injury. Part of your training should be to include two weeks of active recovery! Swim or bike easy are other great options.

Provide your body with proper nutrition. Get all your vitamins and minerals, protein and hydrate, as you have might have depleted your body’s stores. You’ve torn muscles, protein helps rebuild. Hydrate, water helps flush things out. You use resources, so put them back!

Variable Injury issues

Something that is probably not spoken enough about are variable injuries or post race pains. Although it’s important to separate the pain of injury from soreness, most likely if you trained properly you are dealing with other kinds of pain. Variable injures include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness of joints/aches
  • Blisters
  • Chaffing
  • Cuts/Scrapes/Bruises
  • Nail loss

We call them variable since they are usually visible and heal quickly, not detrimental necessarily, but don’t always prevent you from doing things. But you’re probably not going to be comfortable. Be prepared for these to potentially affect you after you finish (some during race). Managing them is key to a happy life post run.

Dealing with variable injuries

What can you do? Swelling: again, motion is the lotion, and also hydrating. Feet tend to swell the most, so it’s handy to have a pair of shoes or sandals that are a size or two bigger than what you wear on standby. Stiffness goes along the same lines as the swelling, but taking it easy with your movements and body as it recovers is a good practice. Blisters affect so many and general foot issues can cause people to drop out. There are plenty of drug store patches you can apply to blistered feet to make putting on shoes again. Dry them bad boys.

Chaffing is tricky as it can go deep, and you not even realize it until the adrenaline wears off…or you take a shower and all the sweat from your run pours over it. Yikes! A lot of us have been there. Again, let it dry, and apply A&D or medical ointments to aid healing. Covering the chaffing, especially if it’s oozing is a bad idea. The pads can stick to the skin and you don’t want to have to peel that off. It’s definitely not like a band-aid.

Cuts, scrapes, and bruises are all typical runner stuff that can also happen often on everyday runs. Treat with your basic first aid kit, flush all open wounds clean. Pay special attention to large bruises however in areas like the ankles or feet/legs, which could mean something deeper going on. Keep an eye out and track with photos everyday for progress and note pain levels daily as well.

Ah the running badge of honor: lost toenails. They say you didn’t need them anyway, right? Well losing one can be annoying and inconvenient afterwards. There are a lot of articles on nail loss, which is extremely common. However, you might want to take a look at your shoes to make sure you’re getting the space in the toebox you need to accommodate your strides. This could be prevented! (No, you aren’t getting a foot picture here 😉 )

Quick note on prevention!

The variable injuries above could be preventable! What’s great about doing a distance for the first time is learning about what you can do the next time (if there is one, and more than likely within about 2 weeks, you’re going to be signing up for something). Talking through your experience helps you process it better. Learn what you can, write down what you experienced post race and when it happened, why you think it happened, and go to Mr. Google, or a running forum/your favorite social media outlet for advice. There’s tons out there about everything commonplace. If it’s happened to you, it probably has happened to someone else.

Training to recover

For a lot of people, it’s hard to sit down for a bit and take in what you just did. You put in an amazing effort (whether you personally believe it or not, doing a distance for the first time deserves praise). Trust us, you will want to let your body fully recovery from big efforts to get all the adaptations from what you’ve done. Returning to training, especially back at it training, could result in injury and overextending yourself.

Speaking of overextending ourselves, something not spoken enough about are stress hormones. We produce cortisol as a result of stress on the body and mind. If stress hormone levels stay elevated, we gain weight, we don’t recover properly, and could potentially get sick. Enjoy what you have accomplished for a bit! We’re not saying to sit and couch potato it up, but rather take care of yourself.

Mental recovery

One major piece that is oftentimes overlooked is the mental part of coming down from a big race and a season of training for said race. Some people need something to look forward to. We addressed some very key things in our article What to Do After Your Race, like picking up a hobby, signing up for a new race, or making a new goal. Take a deep breath and relax, it’s very hard to do! You don’t need to go popping off on UltraSignUp the day after and do a race in the next three weeks. Chill.

The letdown of a large effort is real. And a lot of people struggle with it. Practice restraint during the first two weeks at least. This might have you grinding your teeth, but taking a mental step back, assessing yourself and letting your body get back to a steady state again will help tremendously. FOMO (fear of missing out) can overtake someone pretty easily.

This goes back to letting your body recover too. People struggle a lot mentally when they cannot do something physically. Weigh the risks. No one can stop you from doing what you are going to do, we all have probably done something a week after a big effort and have our body scream at us for trying so soon. Find an alternative outlet for your frustrations. Part of training properly does not stop at your race, it goes beyond that. And it’s not something people talk about often. Make this part of your PLAN.

There is also the crowd who aren’t quite mentally ready to go back at it too, on the other end of the spectrum. We didn’t forget about you guys! Take the time you need off. Running and exercise are always waiting for you when ever you decide to return and no one will judge you for taking you time.

Stay involved with your community. Whether that be your team (harmless Team BU plug), your coach (insert coaching plug here), your local run groups, or your friends. Staying connected can help you mentally get back to it when the time is right for you.

Post Race in a nutshell

Your first race at a distance is important, whether you think it goes well or not. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t compare yourselves to others. No one goes through what you specifically go through. The one things everyone has in common are weather and course conditions (which also could be different depending on your pace and how long the race is!). You are in control of your training, your nutrition, your mental state. Take care of yourself. Prevent what you can. A good set of training cycles leading up will aid your recovery, and getting water through you after you finish are great starts to being comfortable as possible after a big effort.

If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Becoming Ultra. We are all over facebook, and also have an instagram account (@becomingultraproject), so check us out! We have gear as well out at our shop. Let us know if there is something there you’d like to see. Consider donating to our Patreon to keep letting us provide you with great free content. We are community supported!

Stephanie Dannenberg

Steph has been running really far in really hot, cold, dry, and rainy places. She is the newest coach for Becoming Ultra and contributes on the podcast regularly!